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Avalanche risk high for Canadian Rockies this weekend, expert says, following rare snow dump

Too much snow is an unusual problem for a ski hill to have, but that’s what happened at Sunshine Village this week. 

Parks Canada says human-triggered avalanches likely at alpine level

Parks crews close trails, trigger avalanches

7 months ago
Duration 0:58
Crews set off a number of explosives on the East End of Rundle (EEOR) to reduce the avalanche risk in the area. Recent rain, wind and heavy snow have increased the avalanche danger on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.

Too much snow is an unusual problem for a ski hill to have, but that's what happened at Sunshine Village in Banff, Alta., this week. 

An avalanche expert says the snowfall that caused the ski resort's closure is linked to considerable avalanche risk in the area this weekend. 

Kendra Scurfield, director of brand and communications at Banff Sunshine Village ski and snowboard resort, says in the past week the area saw more than a metre of snow. 

"It's insane … the storm was so big and with the storm producing so much, so much snow and the temperatures being above seasonal, it did create a higher avalanche risk just because of how heavy the snow was." 

Kendra Scurfield is the director of brand and communications at Banff Sunshine Village. She called this week's heavy snow an 'anomaly.' (Radio-Canada)

Scurfield says the snow that the resort usually sees is much drier than in other parts of Canada, but this week the snow had very high moisture levels. 

"It is a bit of an anomaly for us in the Canadian Rockies." 

Due to the extreme avalanche hazard in Banff National Park and related access road closure, the resort was shuttered Dec. 1 and 2, but has since reopened. 

Scurfield says avalanche risk is still considerable in some areas, and skiers and snowboarders are encouraged be cautious and follow marked closures. 

Parks Canada says at the alpine level there are still dangerous avalanche conditions, and careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route finding and conservative decision making is essential, with human-triggered avalanches likely.

Chris Stethem is an avalanche safety expert and former Canmore avalanche protection consultant. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Chris Stethem, an avalanche safety expert and former Canmore avalanche protection consultant, says some conditions are different this year due to the unusually heavy snowfall. 

Fluctuating freezing levels and strong winds increase risk, he says.

"This is heavy snow for the Rockies, it is a different type of thing … this is a lot for the Canadian Rockies," he said. 

He says the highest risk activities for people visiting the mountains this weekend are ice climbing and ski touring. 

With files from Dave Gilson

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